Thursday, November 12, 2009

Netflix on PS3: Pros and Cons

At long last, Netflix has made their Instant Streaming capabilities available to owners of the PlayStation 3. As a PS3 owner myself, this is a welcome addition to an already capable machine. It certainly makes their new "It only does everything" slogan slightly truer.

If you own a PlayStation 3 and have a Netflix account, go to Netflix and sign up for the Instant Streaming Disc right away (if you haven't already). You'll need this disc every time you want to watch streaming movies, which is probably a con for some people. Personally, it doesn't bother me that I have to put a disc in the machine to watch a streaming movie. I already use my PS3 as a DVD/Blu-ray player, so I'm used to making the long journey from the couch to the machine when I want to watch something. Netflix and Sony have said that sometime next year, instant streaming will become part of the PS3 software, at which point we'll no longer need the disc. This just adds convenience to convenience in my opinion.

Pro: The disc is yours to keep at no additional cost, and does not count as one of your rental discs. You can continue renting your three movies at a time (or however many you get) by mail.

Con: Poor imagine quality. Whether it's the fault of sub-par internet speeds in the U.S., or just the way the videos are compressed at the source, streaming movies can look pretty bad. This is perhaps not such a big deal for, say, The Ten, which is one of the first things I test-watched via streaming. But when I see that visual masterworks like A Clockwork Orange or Wall-E are available for instant viewing, I shudder to think how much people are missing if this is the only way they'll see them.

It's interesting that in an age when people are demanding bigger TV's with the highest of progressive scan high definition quality, they're simultaneously willing to sacrifice all that quality for convenience. I'm sure that picture quality will improve as the technology advances. I just hope that happens sooner rather than later.

I also test-watched an HD episode of "30 Rock" via streaming. The picture quality was much better, but definitely not the HD quality you receive via cable/satellite.

Pro: The interface. While it could certainly stand to be improved in some ways -- such as adding the ability to type in a search -- the interface works very well. Reminiscent of Apple's Cover Flow, it lines up your movies in the order you've organized them in your Netflix queue, and allows you to easily scroll to the one you want. It also offers you the ability to find movies you haven't added to your queue via category tabs at the top of the screen (new releases, popular, comedy, sci-fi).

Con: Hit-or-miss selection. We're still in the very early days of this method of distribution, and content owners and licensees are still very uncertain about how to proceed. Because of this, Netflix offers a rather limited selection of movies and TV shows for instant viewing. And it's constantly shifting. A movie you've added to your Instant Queue might become unavailable by the time you finally decide to sit down and watch it. Someday this will all be worked out, whether it's Netflix who accomplishes it or not. In the meantime, content availability is difficult to predict.

Pro: No additional fees. With the X-Box 360, you can only stream Netflix movies if you subscribe to the Gold plan for X-Box Live, which requires an additional $50/year. Sure, that's less than $5/month, but extra money is extra money. Netflix on PS3 comes with no additional expenses.

Con: PS3's terrible wireless internet card. This has been a point of contention for me since I first got my PS3. Wireless internet drags on the PS3; system updates and video game downloads take forever. The connection often gets dropped altogether (this happens less frequently now than it used to). To date, this hasn't been too much of an issue; I rarely download games, and system updates are only an occasional thing. But I intend to take full advantage of streaming movies, which is going to severely tax my PS3's wireless card.

My test viewing of The Ten went off without a hitch; the movie played start-to-finish with no problems. But when I attempted to watch Bright Young Things in HD, the stream failed in less than a minute, and was not able to restore itself within three minutes of failing. Concerned about the implications of HD streaming, I queued up an episode of "30 Rock" in HD. That played start-to-finish without any problems. I ran another episode just prior to writing this, and it failed within the first five minutes. It restored after only a few seconds, but still... any interruption breaks the spell a movie is meant to cast. I'm hoping these glitches are something that will disappear quickly as the technology progresses.

(Note: Running a hard wire to my PS3 would be difficult given the layout of my house and the location of my modem and router. Besides, it shouldn't be required; that's the whole point of wireless internet.)

Pro: Every new, legal video streaming service that comes into existence represents a positive step toward quelling piracy and developing a new economic system that will allow the movies and shows we all love to remain financially sustainable.

Netflix is doing something extremely rare: giving customers a value add without increasing the cost of service. While the selection is limited, a great deal of the content available for streaming via Netflix is stuff you want to watch. And one presumes that the quality and breadth of content will only increase as we move into the future.

Netflix's continued push toward streaming content is both a response to and a push toward the inevitable future where media will no longer be distributed via physical materials. Make no mistake, discs will linger for many years. But Netflix, along with iTunes, is leading the way to the future, and providing an early working model for what will soon become the norm.

1 comment :

  1. Hi Joe,

    Thanks much for the insight on the available streaming movies on the PS3. I was wondering why it was so limited. However I'll have to disagree with you about the picture quality. Everything I watched so far on the ps3 through netflix looks great! However I have a plasma. So maybe the quality is not as good on certain tvs?


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